Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Virginia Preview

Over the first 9 games of the conference season, Virginia went 1-8, and was outscored by a total of 81 points. They lost by 16 at Wake Forest, by 22 at Duke, and, worst of all, by 31 at home to Clemson. In the 5 game since, the 'Hoos are 3-2 and +22 in the scoring column (rough estimate of about +6.5 in efficiency margin). While there's obviously more going on than just one addition, it is notable that Laurynas Mikalauskas, who had missed the first 9 games of the conference season, returned to the squad for the most recent 5 game stretch of quality basketball. Mikalauskas has played the best basketball of his career over this stretch, including 15 and 7 against Georgia Tech and 16 and 13 against Miami.

All in all, Virginia has played its most recent five games the way people expected them to play over the course of the season. The opponent Duke travels to the JPJ to face this evening is not the same team that was blown out in Cameron to open ACC play. The biggest turnaround has been on the offensive side of the ball - Virginia averaged 69 points per game over the first 9, and 80/game over the past 5. They'll look to continue the offensive resurgence against a Duke defense that has been less than stingy at several points during conference play.

Back in January, Duke won by shutting down the role players. Cavaliers not named Sean Singletary shot just 40% from the field, including just 20% from 3. The Devils also forced lots of turnovers (19) and shot well inside (63.9% from 2) on a night when the outside shots were not quite as proficient (35.5%). Virginia has been a lot better at taking care of the ball recently - under 10 turnovers a game during the last 5. Duke will look to reverse that trend and pick up easy points in transition.

A close game against Virginia is always dangerous, because Sean Singletary does things that normal human beings are incapable of, particularly in the last couple minutes of games. His game-winning shot last season against Duke was just remarkable - a flat on his back in mid-air teardrop jumper over McRoberts' outstretched arms. Virginia will look to recapture some of that magic tonight to spring the upset.

Around the ACC

Virginia Tech laid a whipping on Wake last night. If they can find a way to win at Clemson this weekend, the Hokies will be the third place team in conference, and almost certainly assured of an NCAA bid. They've done an excellent job resurrecting their season since being left for dead after losing to UNC by 39. Then again, having the easiest schedule in the conference helps those efforts.

Speaking of UNC, the Tar Heels won their warmup for the weekend, beating FSU 90-77 and firmly ending any discussion of FSU sneaking into the at large picture. With their losses, the Noles and Deacs join Virginia, Georgia Tech, NCSU, and Boston College as teams who need to win the ACC tournament to see NCAA action. As for Carolina, their two seniors (QT and Surry Wood) were perfect from the floor on senior night, and Hansbrough was a rebound shy of his umpteenth "triple-double" (points, rebounds, free throw attempts). For the Noles, Toney Douglas never wants to see baby blue again - 6 for 32 from the field in two games against UNC. In two games against Carolina, FSU shot 12 of 55 from 3 - not exactly a recipe for an upset.

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